He made way after 50 minutes but a few first-half seconds were enough for Julio Enciso to light up the AMEX Stadium and show Pep Guardiola the magic in his boots. If opposition supporters are left applauding, it tends to be pretty special and some Manchester City supporters couldn’t help but put their hands together for a moment of sheer, individual brilliance.
After all, they had the perfect view of Enciso’s 38th-minute thunderbolt – which left his foot like a missile before dipping and swerving in the Sussex air, the destination always the top right corner. And when you have wrapped up the Premier League title in the brutally brilliant manner City have, it’s always easier to show appreciation in such fashion.
And if recent speculation is anything to go by, Enciso and City’s paths could well cross in the future – with Guardiola claimed to be a ‘huge admirer’ of the Paraguayan forward. Wednesday night’s encounter on the south coast always promised to be a fun game of football – two of the Premier League’s purest going toe-to-toe, with the pressure toned down ever so slightly in City’s case.
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Enciso’s moment of mass destruction was the pick of it all – devastating technique which left Stefan Ortega at full stretch but ultimately hopeless. First on the night for duels won, pressures and final third pressures – the relentless number 20 justified the hype around himself along with the Seagulls as a forward-thinking football club.
And on it, Brighton went toe-to-toe with Guardiola’s side – who were left to rue a second-half VAR call which denied Erling Haaland a late winner in front of the travelling City faithful. Roberto De Zerbi received the ultimate praise from Guardiola leading into the game and City went at Brighton with the hosts’ own game – inviting pressure in their own third before going long, back and eventually through. It was that method which led to Phil Foden’s opener mid-way through the first half.
City had to settle for a draw in the end but there were smiles come full time from Guardiola – who you can imagine will have enjoyed every second of his side’s midweek test, against a brave Brighton who more than played there part and continue to impress. City took a point back up the road on paper, but much more than that you sense – ahead of two mammoth finals.
As for the 19-year-old who denied them of all three at the AMEX, De Zerbi expressed his belief post-match that Brighton is the best place for him to keep improving. Time will ultimately tell whether City and Guardiola have something to say about that.